Talon Yager and Andrew McVay each remember their first time playing in a band at Ray’s Golden Lion in Richland.
For Yager, a bass player, it was 2005. For McVay, a guitarist, it was 2009.
But for both, it seems like just yesterday, full of fond memories. It’s a feeling they want other musicians to experience.
“This is home,” McVay said. “It’s a place where all my friends would hang out, either in this building or out in the parking lot.”
Yager, who has played 300 shows at Ray’s over the years, agreed.
“It was social media before there was social media,” Yager said. “There would be 400 of us hanging out.”
But those days have been gone since October 2015, when owner Wai-Mon “Raymond” Chin had to close for unpaid rent. A year later, Chin, 83, was hit and killed by a car while crossing Van Giesen Street on his daily walk.
In the last few years, Yager and McVay have dreamed of reopening Ray’s as a place for live music and food.
The pair bought the business last year in December, and they’ve worked sometimes 70 hours a week to get the place up and running.
They originally had hoped to open on July 1. Then an anticipated Sept. 30 opening came and went when a burst water pipe caused damage. They’ve already had to cancel several scheduled bands.
Most recently, some leaky gas pipes are causing them trouble.
“We’re in for $700,000 to $800,000 at this point,” said Yager, who mentions part of that cost is the actual purchase of the building. “Getting the place up and running took about $150,000 more than we thought it would.”
Yager is quick to point out this is a passion project, and $400,000 of that is for repairs.
“It’s our chance to give back to the community,” Yager said.
The building has a history in the Uptown Shopping Center that dates back to the 1940s.
It was known as Ernie’s Restaurant in the 1940s and 1950s. It became Ray’s Golden Lion in 1963.
When it was Ray’s, it had a winning formula: Chinese restaurant during the day into the early evening; then a bar/nightclub by night.
The list of performers or bands over the years who have played at Ray’s is impressive: Tiny Tim, Frank Sinatra’s son Frank Jr., Meatloaf, and Ike and Tina Turner.
In later years, Alien Ant Farm and Attila played during the heavy death metal era.
Yager and McVay want to bring back that same vibe at Ray’s from when they were kids. But there won’t be Chinese food.
Yager has grown up over the years as a chef. He owns Stick + Stone Pizza in the Queensgate retail area of Richland, as well as a catering business.
He’s already developed a menu for Ray’s and is, of course, in charge of the kitchen.
“The kitchen needed some work,” Yager said. “Cooking is my first love. I’ve been a chef all of my life. For this menu, I’m still looking for a cross between gastropub food and bar food.”
Items on the menu could include fish and chips, chicken and waffles, a brisket patty, hamburgers, six or seven vegan options, and pork belly tacos.
He admitted things won’t get too fancy.
“It’s a dive bar,” Yager said. “I mean let’s be honest, you can’t put lipstick on a pig.”
They’ll follow the same old Ray’s formula: the restaurant will be open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., then the show takes over after that.
McVay will be in charge of the bar.
“We’re putting a twist on our cocktails,” he said.
But Yager admitted the food and drinks are secondary to this project.
“Eighty percent of what we’ll do is Andrew opening a bottle, and me flipping a burger,” Yager said.
It’s the live music that will be the draw.
Both men say that the number of local bands is nowhere near what they were when they were playing with their respective groups.
And they understand that the Emerald of Siam as well as the old Uptown Theatre on the other side of the Uptown regularly schedule shows.
“It just adds more people in our area (of the Tri-Cities),” McVay said. “And we want to work with Emerald. We don’t want to book a punk show when they’re booking one.”
To that end, while McVay and Yager stay up on the latest acts, they have a friend, DJ Bobby Mansfield, who books a lot of their acts.
“He has the connection in the music community,” McVay said. “What’s hot right now is metal. Punk rock is making a comeback. And we want to cater to the metal and rock fans.”
Yager adds that progressive music is gaining steam.
“We want to be the CBGB’s around here,” he said, referring to the famous New York City music club that opened in 1973 which became a famed venue of punk rock and new wave bands like the Ramones, Blondie, and Talking Heads. “We want original music. No covers. One in every 45 shows might be a tribute band.”
To get the word out, Yager and McVay are doing most of their promotions/communications through social media.
They launched a new Ray’s Facebook page. Since the old one is still up, the new one does not use an apostrophe (Rays Golden Lion).
The Richland venue is a great chance for groups to come through and do a show on their way to bigger cities like Seattle, Portland or Spokane, the new owners said.
The duo also wants to take care of those bands that pass through here. They remember what it was like when they played, and they weren’t always treated well by promoters or venue owners.
“Being on tour is awesome, but it also sucks,” said Yager, who at one time was the bassist for the band The Drip, which had some popularity and toured the western half of the United States. “The next day after a show you hurt. Not making money that day sucks. Guys get so tight with each other when you’re on tour. You’re living in a van together. At the end of the tour you’re sick of each other. But eventually you remember the journey and it was fun.”
The leaky gas pipes have to be fixed, obviously.
But Yager is trying to get a night club liquor license endorsement to open the place up.
“We need to get some money coming through here to keep things going,” Yager said. “And we’re hoping to get things open sometime this month (of October).”
The co-owners say they already have 15 to 20 employees ready to report to work when they open.
As the late Tom Petty said, the waiting is the hardest part.
McVay said he was outside recently working on the front when a person yelled encouragement at him to keep plugging away, that they’re almost to the finish line and not to give up.
It’s become a labor of love for them both.
“Being busy has been ingrained in me, from my grandparents to me parents,” Yager said. “My main goal is to take care of my family and friends. But my goal some day is to own 10 businesses.”
This one will be all about the music.
“I have a passion for the (local music) scene,” added McVay. “I want to get back what we once had, but this time make it even better. This thing has a chance to be the most popular place in town.”
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